Production capabilities most frequently reported by respondents were CNC machining, metal fabrication, injection molding, and PCB assembly
By Mark Shortt
Manufacturers are proving crucial to America’s ability to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, which has sent demand for life-saving medical equipment surging through U.S. supply chains. As the novel coronavirus began to spread, collaborative product design teams from hospitals, research labs, and medical OEMs quickly came together. Their mission: to figure out the fastest way to get face masks, face shields, ventilators, testing kits, and other medical equipment into the hands of healthcare professionals who need them.
Ultimately, product design teams would face the same questions: How would these critical products—so essential to stopping the spread of COVID-19—be manufactured? Who would produce the parts needed to assemble them? What manufacturing companies have the necessary skills and expertise?
Design-2-Part surveyed more than 2,600 contract manufacturers, job shops, and suppliers throughout North America to help answer these questions. In April, D2P emailed contacts at 2,679 companies, sending them a link to an online survey asking about their capabilities and readiness to produce PPE and parts for medical equipment during the COVID-19 crisis.
Respondents were informed that their responses would be considered for publication online and in print in D2P magazine.
“Our purpose is to get the word out about critically needed manufacturing capabilities,” the email stated. “By doing so, we can help connect designers of essential products with the suppliers who can help produce them.”
The survey consisted of nine questions, including queries about the company’s ability to provide parts for ventilators and other life-saving equipment; capacity to take on new orders for critical-use parts; and ability to retrofit, retool, or otherwise adapt its operations to produce these parts. Also included were questions about experience in providing parts to the medical industry; relevant quality management system certifications; and design for manufacturability (DFM) capability.
What the survey said
Companies responding to the survey were from 32 states and the province of Quebec, Canada. Of the 191 respondents who completed the survey, 182 (95 percent) reported capabilities that could help produce parts for ventilators or other critical equipment, and 152 (79 percent) reported capabilities for producing PPE. Only six of the respondents who completed the survey (3 percent) did not report capabilities to produce parts for ventilators, PPE, or other critical-use medical equipment.
Respondents reported a wide range of parts manufacturing and product development services, led by CNC machining (38 respondents), metal fabrication (26 respondents), plastic injection molding (19 respondents), and electronics manufacturing/printed circuit board assembly (19 respondents).
Also reported were 3D printing/additive manufacturing (15), metal stamping (15), rubber molding (7), springs and wire forms (6), coating (5), thermoforming (5), metal finishing (5), labels (5), vacuum forming (3), die casting (3), nameplates (3), plastic extrusion (3), metal extrusion (2), pressure forming (2), investment casting (2), and EMI/RFI shielding, among others. In addition, 133 respondents (70 percent) said their company offered design, engineering, or design for manufacturability (DFM) capabilities.
The results point to a substantial base of U.S. contract manufacturers, job shops, and suppliers with capabilities to manufacture parts for medical supplies and equipment currently in great demand. Beyond that, a high percentage of respondents expressed a willingness to pivot from their normal operations to support COVID-19 containment.
A total of 176 respondents (92 percent) reported having available capacity to take on new orders for parts, while 120 (63 percent) indicated they could retrofit, retool, or otherwise adapt their operations to produce critical parts needed for use by medical/healthcare personnel, emergency first responders, and other essential personnel whose work requires them to be in close contact with the public.
One hundred fifty-two (152) respondents (80 percent) stated they had provided parts, prototypes, materials, or services to the medical industry in the past. These included seals, gaskets, springs, printed circuit boards, enclosures, and housings for ventilators; EMI/RFI shielding gaskets for respirators, ventilators, and testing equipment; wire harnesses and cable assemblies for CPR equipment; as well as parts for ECG electrodes, lead wires, fluid delivery systems, surgical instruments, defibrillators, and diagnostic equipment, to name a few.
On the topic of quality management system certification, 124 respondents (65 percent) indicated their company was ISO 9001 certified; 35 respondents (18 percent) reported AS9100D (aerospace) certification; 21 respondents (11 percent) reported ISO 13485 (medical device) certification; and 11 respondents (6 percent) said they were certified to IATF 16949 (automotive).
Why the results are important
The survey results are significant in light of ongoing and anticipated demand for PPE, diagnostic equipment, and respiratory care technologies. Today, original equipment manufacturers, product developers, university research labs, and regional purchasing partnerships are sharply focused on building robust supply chains that will deliver medical products well into the future. Their success will be key to the nation’s ability to avoid further shortages resulting from supply chain disruptions. Sufficient stockpiles are needed not just to contain the current spread of the disease, but to prepare for possibilities like the emergence of a second wave of COVID-19 or an entirely new threat to public health.
Demand for critical medical equipment and supplies is likely to remain high to ensure that frontline healthcare workers, first responders, and other public-facing workers, such as people working in retail, have the protection they deserve going forward. It may rise higher if greater numbers of people—including the elderly and others who are more vulnerable to infection—are able to receive that protection.
Demand is also being fueled by efforts to develop makeshift, stopgap equipment, as well as innovative technologies for future epidemics. Worldwide demand for lifesaving equipment is likely to continue to rise as innovators seek to develop new products that improve upon today’s technologies.
Download the PDF to see selected excerpts of the survey responses.